Colorado's last great soul-funk band was formed in 1966 in Phoenix, Arizona, where it was known as Freddi-Henchi and the Soulsetters.
In 1968, founding members Freddy Gowdy and Marvin "Henchi" Graves decided to move the band to California in hopes of engaging a national audience and obtaining a record deal. While in La La Land, they recorded an LP called Dance. Originally released on the Tower Records imprint, it was later reissued through Reprise Records. The band gained some notoriety and toured the West, making a stop in Fort Collins. A two-week stint turned into six weeks, and soon Gowdy and Graves had permanently relocated to Boulder, which is where they met a young bassist named Jerry Krenzer.
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Krenzer had decided on a career as a professional musician after graduating from Alameda High School in 1967. His father was a glass glazer, employed to create artistic glass and lightboxes. He supported his son's dream but advised Krenzer to learn a craft, just in case the music thing didn't pan out. So Krenzer learned to glaze glass, too, but in those enthusiastic years after high school, he was primarily fixated on playing a Fender Precision bass guitar.
He was first employed as a studio musician at Western Cine, a recording studio off of Alameda near Wash Park. Krenzer recalls his time working for Western Cine fondly; it's where he learned a wide array of tricks that would come in handy while working in the music industry. The studio mainly recorded radio jingles. Krenzer and the band, which included guitarist Bob Yeazel of Sugarloaf, would play composed music that was set in front of them. Each musician was paid $75 per session, no matter how much time it took. A week after they recorded, they would hear the jingle on the radio.
One day during a session, Yeazel received a phone call from a man named Quills, who was the organ and trumpet player for Freddi-Henchi and the Soulsetters. The band was looking for a guitarist and a bass player. Yeazel and Krenzer auditioned in Graves's basement in Boulder and were offered the positions in January 1975. They had a decision to make: stay with Western Cine as studio musicians, or tour with the Freddi-Henchi band. It wasn't a hard decision for Krenzer. "I used to go see those guys play at the Skunk Creek Inn and think to myself, 'Boy, wouldn't it be great to play with them?'" he says.
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Once the pair decided to do just that, the lineup consisted of Yeazel on guitar, Krenzer on bass, Quills on organ and trumpet, Tony Bunch on congas, Eppy Guerrero on drums and Larry Wilkins on guitar, in addition to Gowdy and Graves. With the new hires came a new name: the Freddi-Henchi Band.
Over the next three decades, the band became one of the most popular in the state, thrilling crowds at ski resorts and city clubs alike. It was about more than music: On stage, the musicians wore stylish matching outfits and maintained a choreographed stage presence. Tony Bunch was known for his backflips, Quills for playing a Hammond B-3 and trumpet at the same time. The Freddi-Henchi Band gave a name and a face to soul and funk in Denver, inspiring many groups that followed.
But thirty years is a long time, longer than most relationships, and Krenzer witnessed his share of the group's hardships, as well.
Although all of the members became very close, he and Guerrero were inseparable. The drummer taught the guitarist how to navigate the world of soul and funk, helping him break from his rock roots. Krenzer drove Guerrero to every gig, and they roomed together while on tour.
Because of their relationship, Krenzer saw Guerrero's struggles with alcohol and drugs more clearly than most of the people in his life. "There were times when we'd be driving back from Aspen or somewhere like that, and Eppy would be lying in the back seat, just blue in the face," remembers Krenzer somberly. "It was scary, man." On a trip home to Phoenix in the mid-'70s, Guerrero died of a heroin overdose.
Krenzer remained with the Freddi-Henchi Band through the height of its success, when it hosted a weekly party at a music venue on Boulder's Pearl Street owned by Graves. Jim Cuercio of Caribou Ranch Studios recorded a full-length album and brought in his brother, Jeff, who had worked with the likes of the Beach Boys, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills and Elton John, to engineer and produce the album. But Jeff died in a hang-gliding accident before the record could be finished, and Jim shut down the studio. The rough mixes of a Freddi-Henchi Band full-length are sitting on a shelf somewhere, collecting dust.
The band fell apart in the late '80s, when Graves's drug habit landed him first in the hospital and then in prison, although some form of the group continued, playing shows into the '90s. It wasn't until Graves died, in 2009, that any hope for a full reunion officially ended.
But Jerry Krenzer is still plucking away at the bass. He plays in a ten-piece band called the Bluzinators. You'll find him on stages around town every few months with the group, keeping Colorado's surprisingly storied funk and soul tradition alive.
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